Nine years ago, bedridden with a debilitating case of chronic Lyme disease, I examined my life. For 36 years I’d slaved away in jobs I detested because they provided me with a good living, but despite having all the material things that money could buy, I was miserable. In that rare moment of clarity, I thought, Is this all there is?
Three-plus decades after entering the work force, I was no closer to achieving my dreams of being a travel writer and photographer. Instead, I’d become ensnared in a web of mortgages, car payments, and a seeming unending desire for more “stuff.” I promised myself that, if I recovered, I would walk away from corporate life to pursue the only thing I’d ever wanted to do.
A year later, at the age of 54, I slung a backpack over my shoulder and headed out on my first round-the-world trip. I was excited and a little scared. Vietnam was my first destination, and for weeks my friends and family had been alarming me with stories of the dangers of the country. My first night did not go smoothly. I checked into my guest house, found an Internet cafe down the street, and settled in to work. A couple of hours later I stepped back onto the street, only to find that metal shutters had been rolled down over all the storefronts. Everything looked the same.
By the time I’d spent two weeks traveling solo around Vietnam by bus, I was confident in my ability to travel the world solo.
Rather than panic, I calmed myself with the idea that, at worst, I would have to move to another hotel for the night. I did eventually locate my guest house and, after a few minutes of banging on the metal door, woke the night watchman, who let me in. It was my first lesson in rolling with the punches. By the time I’d spent two weeks traveling around Vietnam by bus, I was confident in my ability to travel the world solo.
My second experience in Vietnam was even more profound. In Hanoi, I visited the War Museum and was shocked to learn that Vietnamese refer to the 20-year conflict as “The American War.” This one small fact translated into a fascination for the differences between cultures that has influenced all my subsequent travels.
In the eight years since my initial round-the-world trip, I’ve visited more than 50 countries, traveling slowly whenever possible in order to immerse in the local cultures. In 2009, I gave up my apartment and became a perpetual traveler, with no permanent home base, and I have no plans to stop anytime soon.
When people learn what I do, they often exclaim, “You’re so brave,” or ask, “Aren’t you afraid?” I tell them there is no reason to be afraid, that people the world over are more similar than they are different. Though we may wear different clothes, speak different languages, and practice different religions, at our core we all want the same things: a safe place to live, enough food to eat, freedom from oppression, and a better life for our children.
“Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” Miriam Beard
Miriam Beard, daughter of the American historians Charles and Mary Beard, said “Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” Without a doubt, travel has irrevocably changed me. I have no interest in owning a home and never purchase souvenirs. My wardrobe is limited to what fits in a 25” suitcase. Material possessions are of no interest to me. And I have never felt so free.
I now realize that my initial fears were foolish. Travel is not dangerous. Despite traveling solo to numerous developing countries where poverty is rife, I have never felt the least bit threatened. Strangers have gone out of their way to help me and even welcomed me into their homes. Lifelong friendships have resulted. Travel, more than any other activity, eliminates the fear of others whom we see as different from ourselves.
Perpetual travel is not for everyone, however, long-term travel is becoming popular with more than just ‘gap year’ travelers. Baby boomers especially, who are healthier and more active than ever before, are looking for ways to make valuable contributions in retirement, and many are opting to do so by volunteering overseas. Having mastered the art of long-term travel, I plan to share my wealth of knowledge in this monthly column. So, whether you’re an armchair traveler or are contemplating long-term travels of your own, be sure to watch for my future articles. It should be an insightful journey.
When Barbara Weibel realized she felt like the proverbial “hole in the donut” – solid on the outside but empty on the inside, she walked away from corporate life and set out to see the world. Read first-hand accounts of the places she visits and the people she meets at Hole in the Donut Cultural Travels. Follow her on Facebook or Twitter (@holeinthedonut).
Last weekend I was in NYC, meeting with Rolf, among other things. It was mentioned, in passing, to a girl I met over dinner one evening and she got so excited: “I’ve read his book!! It literally changed my life!” She gushed. Her enthusiasm for travel was palpable, and she agreed to let me film her talking a bit about what the book, Vagabonding, had meant to her… she also had something to say to Rolf, personally:
Would you like to contribute a video about what Vagabonding has meant to you? Contact me: jenn(AT)vagabonding.net
In 1885, a young lady just 21 years old read an article titled “What Girls are Good For” in a Pittsburg newspaper. Her written response to the paper impressed the editor so much, that he offered her a job as a writer, with the pen name “Nellie Bly”. Nellie went on to prove that women had brains, heart, and courage to do anything that men could, despite what the article had previously reported.
Nellie began traveling to other places as an investigative journalist, broadening her knowledge of cultural, political, and social issues, and giving raw accounts of the groups and tribes she encountered.
She was one of the first female travel writers, and after studying her, I can see that her vagabond spirit propelled her further than other women of her time and geographical location. She had an unprecedented idea to travel the world alone in fewer days than the male character in the book “Around the World in Eighty Days”. Women did not travel without escorts because it was said that they were too delicate, and that they had too many belongings to take with them. But Nellie, unwilling to be held down by anyone’s expectations or rules, boarded a ship alone with the clothes on her back, a few under garments, a coat, and a small bag of toiletries. This puts my “one luggage per family member” rule to shame.
Not only did Nellie complete the trip, despite several setbacks, she did it in 72 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes, and 14 seconds after her departure. Her arrival home was met with applause by men and women alike, as she accomplished something no one else in her position had done before.
From this point in her life on, Nellie made decisions that rung true to her own convictions and beliefs. She traveled to many more places that American women dared not, and she uncovered and reported a myriad of disgraceful political and social issues that were hidden from the public. In one of her adventures, she posed as an insane person in order to get an inside look of life in an asylum. When she revealed the conditions through her detailed report, a judge granted a huge budget increase to care for the patients there.
When each of us takes a step on a journey, we do it out of conviction or curiosity. When we find our strength to leave familiarity for something more meaningful, we are raw, vulnerable, and unable to use our comforts and belongings as crutches. We see things the way they really are, and we relate to people more honestly and openly. Often we find more than we set out for. In the beginning, Nellie just wrote a letter addressing the fact that women were valuable. In the end, she became one of the first well-known female travel writers, investigative journalists, and advocates for social justice of her time. She shaped herself and her surroundings with each step she took in her journey- just like we do as we travel our own roads.
“But you’re just going to leave!”
Although I hated to admit it, who said that was right. At the time I’d been seasonally migrating as a guide for four years. And had no intention to confine my adventurous spirit in domestic American life, then—if ever. The catch though was he was not American; Swedish born to immigrated Polish parents. And unless we got married, physically being together was a matter of juggling countless visas. I was willing to explore the challenges of the relationship. He proposed, and I accepted. However, the seemingly prince-charming-fairy-tale was soured after five months, in one evening by his jealousy. (I’d been out socializing–drinking and playing cards with colleagues after a conference—and being that my fiancé and I were nine time zones apart, I missed talking to him on the phone for a whole day.) When I told him why, he got irate. The plot got thicker; but, long-story-short things didn’t work out with us.
My traveling continued, and continues still…But for several years after that break-up I abstained from dating or intimate relationships.
How do us late “Generation X” travelers bridge tradition and progressive thought?
I grew up with a passion for horses, not wanting to get married, or have children. My passion for horses keeps getting stronger. I was intrigued with the idea of marriage a few years back, and now have warmed up to fostering or adopting a child down the road. So where does that adult understanding leave me?
My current boyfriend and I are in an open relationship. We are committed to one another, but are non-monogamous and can have relationships with other partners. This doesn’t mean I can be traveling half-a-world-away, get drunk, and wake up naked next to some stranger; then afterwards confess to my boyfriend that it “didn’t mean anything” the morning after. Rather, as a couple, we consent to our partners other relations—be it flirting, dating, sexual contact, or intercourse. Everything, all our feelings are in full disclosure. We talk about everything!
There’s a Polish proverb that says, “Love enters a man through his eyes, women though her ears.” So shouldn’t it be every womens’ dream to have a guy that will actually talk to her?
So I began this post with a very traditional phenomena of girl-meets-foreign-boy-and-falls-in-love fantasy. And while I don’t doubt that could happen, it didn’t eventually work out for me. In the end, my original prince charming and I lacked one true thing…an open line and space of communication. But the guy who was always there happened to be my best friend.
At the root of most relationships, communication is lacking. Distance shouldn’t matter. In the end, every human is seeking a connection. It could be simply a friendly conversation; an exchange of directions; or one’s life story that just needed to be expressed.
My point is that communication should, and can be, the heart of travel when it comes to any form of relationship. Within in a few moments, or several hours of stories, you can make a friend.
What are you willing to give?
Personally, I’ve known my current boyfriend for more than a decade. He knows everything; all my travel stories, personal/health issues and fears. Perhaps that makes an open relationship plausible. We agree. We work. We love each other unconditionally.
And yes, I realize, both within my country (of the USA) and copious amounts of others it presents a multitude of controversy…
But because we as a whole, at vagablogging, share this progressive space…how do you feel about open relationships? Or in general…the way communication happens between fellow humans that you meet along your travels…
Flying with your Service Dog takes a bit of pre-planning. Most airlines require 48 hours advance notice about your canine partner. Initially tickets can be booked online through a collective search website like CheapOair. Before purchasing tickets, check out the Airlines direct website for Service Animal rules. Under Federal Law airlines are required to allow Service Animals but a few are friendlier about it than others.
For example: Delta Airlines states on their Special Concerns page “We welcome trained service animals in the aircraft cabin. Trained service animals are different from emotional support animals in that they have been trained to perform a particular function or service to assist a passenger with a disability in the management of their disability. Under most circumstances, we do not require passengers using trained service animals to provide additional documentation. However, it is expected that a service animal behave in public and follow the direction of its owner.”
Special note: If you have an Emotional Support or Psychiatric Service Animal you must provide documentation from your Mental Health Professional.
Before finalizing travel plans take into account if your dog will need to relieve itself during a layover. Allow yourself as much time as possible in case you’ll need to exit and re-enter a security check point.
Two days before, call into customer service and follow the extensions for an existing flight. Have your ticket conformation number handy. Let the representative know you’re traveling with a Service Dog and at this time you may request a bulkhead seat. From experience, I’ve found that the bulkhead window seat provides the most floor room for my dog to curl up. Sometimes (but not always) they’ll ask the breed and size of your animal and also what tasks it preforms for you. Any airline staff or airport personal are allowed to ask what tasks your dog preforms for you. They can NOT ask directly what your disability is. Answer them nicely. They only do this to confirm legitimate Service Dogs.
Navigating security isn’t as horrible as the media advertises. Liquid restrictions and the taking off of shoes is a pain; but it’s just part of the process. On the upside you don’t have to stand in those long, long security lines. Look for a sign that says, “Crew or Passengers needing extra assistance.” These lines are generally shorter and will help accommodate your needs. To enter, hand them your boarding pass, ID and Service Dog Handler ID. That last one isn’t required; however it helps to have one. Mine is plastic (size of a credit card) has my countries flag, the names of myself and my Service Dog as well as our photos. On the back is printed the U.S. Federal Law about ADA Act, along with phone numbers and website address for the Department of Justice. Occasionally this ID has been photocopied, along with her vet papers, when we’ve flown internationally.
Generally, I opt for the old fashion metal detectors and put my dog in a sit-stay on one side. Pass through myself, and call her through to me. Do not remove your animals harness or vest. Only their packs need to go on the belt. If possible I take extra care not to “beep”, but my dog always does. Her working harness, collar and leash all have metal buckles—no avoiding that. This does mean TSA will pat down and search your dog. I use a stand-wait command for my Service Dog. That way she can be searched without interaction with the agent. The process doesn’t take long. They feel her harness and usually swab her for explosive residue. If you need to hold your dog during the search, they’ll swab your hands too. In the event your dog is uncomfortable being handled by strangers with rubber gloves, get a thin cape with plastic buckles and a rope leash to avoid them “beeping.” Place their normal working gear in the bin with your shoes.
When at your gate; take advantage of pre-boarding. You can get yourself and your animal settled before the wave of other passengers. I take along a small blanket to place on the floor so she doesn’t leave fur behind. It’s also good practice to find out if the fellow passenger beside you likes dogs once they sit down. I’ve personally never had an issue with anyone not.
Flying international with your Service Dog requires extra paperwork and attention to detail; as well as, traveling with mobility equipment, such as a wheelchair. I’ll address that in another post.
Recently I’ve been reading, “Wild” by Cheryl Strayed. When the author was in her mid-twenties she solo hiked the Pacific Crest Trail. Her book unfolds as she treks north, nursing her blistered feet and cumbersome heavy pack along a majority of the 2,663mi (4,286km) trail. It initially begins at the Mexican border, passes through California, Oregon, and Washington in the USA and over the border into Canada. Several years ago I’d been gearing up to ride my horses along the same trail, but heavy snows in high mountain ranges and challenges with support team coordination threw a wrench in the trip–so it never happen. But I did ride sections of that trail, along with parts of the Continental Divide Trail, Chilkoot Trail, and the historic Oregon Trail. On foot I’ve graced sections of several other long paths, and driven a dog cart on one pulled by twelve huskies.
Reading Strayed’s book got me thinking about other long-distance footpaths around the world. A popular one in Europe that comes to mind is El Camino de Santiago which starts many different places but ultimately ends at Santiago de Compostela in Spain. I first heard of the trail in a novel by Paulo Coelho called, “The Pilgrimage.” Other countries in Europe such as Germany, Italy and the Netherlands have quite a lot of paths. In Asia I’d looked into hiking the Annapurna Circuit in central Nepal. But it appears that Israel and Japan have many for the choosing as well; Japan’s most popular being the 88 Temple Pilgrimage.
Here are the worlds’ best hikes according to National Geographic.
Mark Moxon has an extensive website of information and stories from his long walking adventures.
The UK has a Long Walkers Association.
One Canadian man even walked around the world in eleven years.
Have you ever hiked or ridden on a long-distance path? Or do you have plans to do so?
Please share your stories or plans in the comments!
Chartering a boat isn’t cheap. If you are lucky and know the right people you could however, get a job as crew, stewarding, cooking or being a deck hand if you don’t have sailing qualifications. If you are not working then watch out for hidden costs such as moorings, docking, water and tips for the crew which may not be included in the bill.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
There is an excellent musician in St.Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands, called Kurt Schindler, he has a catamaran style boat which he uses as a stage. He parks it a few meters off the beach in Cruz Bay, St. John or off White Bay, Jost van Dyke and plays his gigs from there. I saw this rickety contraption with only an outboard motor, no sails and with banners flying in the wind, making it’s way considerable distances between islands.
Warning for men: if talk about female cycles makes you uncomfortable or queasy I’d suggest you skip this post!
Ladies, we can’t all live in the remaining hunter-gatherer cultures where ones menstrual cycle is a sacred celebration. Nor are we still band from our own households for three days like the old laws in Nepal. And frankly I doubt if I strip naked to walk through a field, anyone would still believe that I was warding away storms and ridding the crops of pests like they did in Ancient Rome. Instead most of us reside (or travel) where ‘that time of the month’ makes us feel like crap and becomes an extra hassle; to carry or find supplies can be cumbersome. The traditional methods of tampons or pads still can bleed into awkward moments. For example, when all our travel buddies are going swimming, and we’ve got to make up an excuse rather than announce to everyone were on the ‘rag’.
History aside, years ago while reading a travel blog I came across a post about menstrual cups. They are a rubber or silicone device which you can insert to gather blood, then simply empty and reuse for many years. At first it’s slightly strange getting accustomed to them, but afterwards you’ll be thankful to have made the switch! Technically the little cups were first made in the 60’s; but new designs work better and are widely available. For those of you located in the Americas, Diva Cup is a good brand. In Europe, Lady Cup seems to be the favorite. Their website is also offered in twenty language translations. Of course each time it’s emptied it must be rinsed. If you’ve got no access to water or the microbes might be questionable have some wet-wipes handy like swipes or intimate wipes.
As a final note, during the “No Baggage Challenge” another of our vagablogging team members referenced these cups in her advice for a female version of the trip around the globe with no bags.
The Caribbean isn’t really that cheap. However, if you’re creative and have some skills, anything is possible. Most of my money went on beer and bus tickets.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
Three men waving a live lobster, barracuda pizza and and an Ugly Man competition.
Guyana isn’t really that cheap. However, if you’re creative and have some skills, anything is possible. I worked at Dadanawa Cattle Ranch for two and a half months in exchange for food and board. Most of my money went towards toiletries, insect repellant and beer. Being frugal was easy because the nearest town was 4 hours drive over rough savannah roads away.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen lately?
“ GET OUT OF MY GARDEN” yelled Dani. A chicken was destroying the shallots and was being nonchalant about it too. Duane Defreitas, ranch manager and adventurer, shot at it from the balcony with a Ruger 22 handgun. “Oh scunt!” Winged it. Chung, a Chinese anthropologist, chased after the feathered fugitive with a machete. (more…)